I married Paul, a US citizen, sometime in 2012. He obtained a divorce decree in the USA the following year, and we both declared that we have no acquired property that can be divided between us. I went home to my province in Guimaras in 2015 and bought a residential land. Paul discovered the property I bought in Guimaras, and he wrote me a letter demanding partition of this land. According to him, I remain married to him under Philippine laws, since we do not have a law on divorce in this country. Is he right in saying the property is considered conjugal and he has a share in it?
The nationality principle applies in your situation. The nationality principle under Article 15 of the New Civil Code of the Philippines specifically provides:
“Laws relating to family rights and duties, or to the status, condition and legal capacity of persons are binding upon citizens of the Philippines, even though living abroad.”
The same principle applies to Paul. As an American citizen, his national law shall govern him with respect to his family rights and duties, status and legal capacity. The divorce decree obtained by Paul in accordance with his national law has the effect of dissolving his marriage to you. Hence, his contention that he had remained married with you because there is no divorce law in the Philippines has no legal basis. He is no longer your husband from the time the divorce decree was issued in his favor and he no longer has a claim over the property you acquired after your marriage was dissolved.
In the case entitled Van Dorn vs. Hon. Ramilo, Jr. G.R. No. L-68470, October 8, 1985), former Associate Justice Ameurfina Melencio-Herrera ruled:
“It is true that owing to the nationality principle embodied in Article 15 of the Civil Code, only Philippine nationals are covered by the policy against absolute divorces the same being considered contrary to our concept of public police and morality. However, aliens may obtain divorces abroad, which may be recognized in the Philippines, provided they are valid according to their national law. In this case, the divorce in Nevada released private respondent from the marriage from the standards of American law, under which divorce dissolves the marriage. As stated by the Federal Supreme Court of the United States in Atherton vs. Atherton (45 L. Ed. 794, 799):
“The purpose and effect of a decree of divorce from the bond of matrimony by a court of competent jurisdiction are to change the existing status or domestic relation of husband and wife, and to free them both from the bond.
The marriage tie when thus severed as to one party, ceases to bind either. A husband without a wife, or a wife without a husband, is unknown to the law. When the law provides, in the nature of a penalty that the guilty party shall not marry again, that party, as well as the other, is still absolutely freed from the bond of the former marriage.
Thus, pursuant to his national law, private respondent is no longer the husband of petitioner. He would have no standing to sue in the case below as petitioner’s husband entitled to exercise control over conjugal assets. As he is bound by the decision of his own country’s court, which validly exercised jurisdiction over him, and whose decision he does not repudiate, he is estopped by his own representation before said court from asserting his right over the alleged conjugal property.”
Succinctly, Paul no longer has a claim over the property you acquired as you are no longer related to him by marriage based on the above-stated reason.
Again, we find it necessary to mention that this opinion is solely based on the facts you have narrated and our appreciation of the same. The opinion may vary when the facts are changed or elaborated.
We hope that we were able to enlighten you on the matter.
Editor’s note: Dear PAO is a daily column of the Public Attorney’s Office. Questions for Chief Acosta may be sent to email@example.com